Does Racism Even Mean the Same Thing?

I’m really, really getting sick of people who do horribly racist things and claim to not be racists. I’m not sure if they are perennially stupid or lying (are there other options in this case?), but there is a pervading trend among public figures that you can say or do anything and follow it up with “not that I’m a racist or anything,” and it’s expected that people are supposed to ignore the horrendously racist thing preceding it.

Let’s go to the board for an example.

On December 20, Ta-Nahisi Coates wrote an article for the Atlantic about Ron Paul’s name being all over a bunch of astoundingly racist newsletters from the late 80s and early 90s. Paul claims to have not written them, which I believe, and that he didn’t know what was being written, which I would prefer not to believe rather than accept that a major competitor for the GOP nomination was such a moron that he allowed people to use his name with no oversight. Then again, his insane ideology is such that he may have believed the free market would take care of keeping his name clean.

Whether or not Ron Paul is a racist, we must examine what that even means. In the comments section, one commenter came out with this gem:

When it comes to something like him stating he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act, it’s not because he hates minorities.  It’s because he understands property rights.  If someone wants to ban blacks from their store or exclude their business, they have every right to do that.  Chances are extremely high they will be boycotted and lose their business, which they should IN MY OPINION, but they should have that right.

Arguments like this suffer from what is often called “presentism,” that is using present-day ideas and biases in analyzing the past. For example, asking why women in the middle ages didn’t just rise up and refuse to be treated as property. I mean, women today can do it, why couldn’t they? It ignores the basic reality of the situation in context, applying today’s attitudes to it.

This particular bit of presentism is popular among free market worshipers and their ignorant minions. “If people would have just waited a little longer, good people would have boycotted the racist businesses and they would have had to change or go out of business. Then we’d all live in a wonderful utopia and eat candy canes for every meal. Yay!” What this idealistic and short-sighted view misses is that it was government forcing the businesses not to discriminate that lead to the era we have today in which modern people would boycott a business like that. In the context of the period, however, there was nothing wrong with banning minorities from your store, and boycotts would be unlikely as there had been constructed a complex justification for why segregation was really a good thing for everybody. Boycotts did happen, but they were often by the white majority against minority business owners who dared to stand up for civil rights, such as the Citizens Councils in the south.

But does this qualify as racism? Actually, I’d argue that no, it doesn’t technically, but it’s a differentiation without a difference. Does it really matter whether you actively hate somebody if you’re basically saying that their suffering and inequality will have to wait until people magically change their opinions? Integration forced people to interact with minorities, thereby humanizing them and creating the attitude we have today that would lead to store boycotts for discriminatory practices. Without it, we are unlikely to have changed our opinions even today without some sort of magical intervention. Pretending otherwise may not be racist per se, but it is so close to it as to be indistinguishable in practice.

But let’s leave Ron Paul alone for a moment and instead discuss some more obvious examples. Such as the lovely Jamie Hein in Ohio. Ms. Hein, a landlord, decided that she would put up a sign saying that her swimming pool is for whites only. Yes, she really did that. Yes, in 2011. The state civil rights commission found this to be discriminatory, and Ms. Hein doesn’t understand why. She is appealing the decision because she doesn’t think she was being racist, she only put that up because black people use all this hair product that makes the pool water cloudy. Nothing racist about that.

Now, for the top of the pile, Jules Manson. This Tea Party supporter claims he’s not a racist for calling the president a “nigger,” his children “monkey children,” and calling for his assassination. In a later interview he did say he was a racist, but I think he’s trying to make it into an acronym of some sort and doesn’t exactly understand how spelling works.

The pervading wisdom that seems to be spreading, and there are countless other examples, is that one is only racist if they think they are racist. So long as you don’t believe that you hate other races, you can work against their equality and inclusion, you can call them whatever you want, you can prevent them from using public facilities, etc.

This is not only moronic, it’s a lie. There people are liars of the first degree. Jules Manson is an arrogant asshole who has convinced himself that he’s standing up for the First Amendment and against political correctness. Rather than try to take down that argument, I simply point you to MovieBob’s video on the subject.

Ron Paul is probably not a racist, but ultimately it also doesn’t matter since his ideology means that he would simply allow racism to flourish rather than do anything about it since he can’t wrap his mind around the reason why anybody would patronize a business that discriminated. In all fairness, neither can I, but I have the excuse that I wasn’t alive when segregation was being enforced. Ron Paul was. He has no excuse for being unfamiliar with the prevailing attitudes of the time and it does nothing for his credibility to presume that he doesn’t understand that when you prioritize the property rights of bigots over the civil rights of individuals, it doesn’t matter whether you hate black people or not, the result is the same.

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Hate the Sinner?

Recently, a 14-year-old in Iowa confronted Rick Perry on his DADT stance. She asked, quite pointedly, how he could defame gay people in the military who fought and died so that he would have the right to run for president. She revealed in interviews later that she is openly bi-sexual. At 14. In Iowa. This is not only a very smart and articulate young woman, but also an incredibly brave one.

Perry, who is not nearly as smart, articulate, or brave (though there are enough suspicions about whether he and Marcus Bachmann might attend meetings together for self-hating closet cases), fell back on a string of cliches and hid behind his faith.

“Here’s my issue. This is about my faith, and I happen to think, you know, there are a whole hosts of sins. Homosexuality being one of them, and I’m a sinner and so I’m not going to be the first one to throw a stone,” Perry said. “I don’t agree that openly gays [sic] should be serving in the military. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was working and my position is just like I told a guy yesterday, he said, ‘How would you feel if one of your children was [sic] gay?’ I said I’d feel the same way. I hate the sin, but I love the sinner, but having them openly serve in the military, I happen to think as a commander in chief of some 20,000 plus people in the military is not good public policy, and this president was forced by his base to change that policy and I don’t think it was good policy, and I don’t think people in the military thought it was good policy.”

Alright, so let’s forget for a second that there are 1,477,896 active duty members of the military and 1,458,500 reserve personnel. I mean, he’s technically correct in the same way that he would be correct had he said he would be in charge of “more than a dozen people in the military” or, as Douglas Adams so well put it, “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Even given the remarkable gift of the Syrup Cuddler for understatement, there are two really worrisome things in this statement. And I think you, my handful of loyal readers, already know what they are.

The first, “This is about my faith…” Alright, stop right there. You’re telling me that if you are elected to the office of the president, your faith gets to trump all available evidence re:national security and military strength? Now, he does go on to say that DADT was working, but like his faith that there’s a God who thinks gay people are choosing to defy His otherwise perfect creation, he’s demonstrably wrong. Even more wrong, in fact, as the nature of God makes proof or disproof impossible and we have actual, tangible evidence that DADT was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea. Mr. Perry’s faith is his to have, and he can believe whatever idiotic thing he wants, but the sad thing here is two-fold: both that he wants to use that belief in defiance of reality and that he’s not entirely wrong in gambling that a whole lot of people will vote for him because of that.

It’s hard to really say if that’s a determining factor since the nature of GOP orthodoxy is such that every candidate is expected to measure themselves against a wall and there is very little daylight between them and the most extreme members of their party, providing a very flat baseline. In other words, if Rick Perry were the only candidate in this race that believed that, we could see if his idiotic beliefs were swaying voters, but since every candidate has to reach a certain quota of insane beliefs and ideals (100% of them, in fact), then there is no control sample. All of the candidates fall over one another to demonstrate how much they understand that God wants them to deny gay people rights, so primary voters don’t actually have to make a choice to still get their dose of homophobia (and magical thinking, Islamophobia, immigrant hatred, family values hypocrisy, etc.) and it throws off analysis of what messages are actually resonating.

The other objectionable part of his rambling dodge (side note: The Rambling Dodge would be a great name for a rock band) was his resurrection of the old “hate the sin, love the sinner” canard.

The question, of course, is “Is this possible?” Short answer: no.

Long Answer:

In order to understand this little bit of theological ju-jitsu, you must first understand that people want to consider themselves good. They also want other people to consider them good. This goes doubly for Christians and infinitely more than that in direct proportion to how loudly they proclaim that faith. So, the average person likes being good, the average Christian has the added inducement to be Christ-like on top of just normal good (pretty high standard, according to the story, I’ll grant), and you go all the way up to Tim Tebow who wants to be good so bad that he’s actually convinced himself that throwing less than half of his passes to completion is awesome and ostentatiously prays between bites at dinner.

The other thing to understand is that being good is hard. It is so much easier to claim to love everybody and continue to hate them to yourself than to actually love everybody. I would argue, in fact, that actually loving everybody is a bad idea, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

So, you have a bunch of Christianists like Perry who believe they must love every person, but also believe that they are squigged out by gays, afraid of Muslims, not happy that they have to study the science thing, and totally convinced that God Loves Them Best. That, my friends, is a recipe for trouble, and thus was born “love the sinner, hate the sin,” a piece of vile dishonesty and rank hypocrisy that allows people to convince themselves that they’re doing what Jesus wants while still doing what makes them comfortable.

In Perry’s (and every other GOP official other than Fred Karger and…there’s at least one more, I think) case, he claims to love the sinner (gays) and hate the sin, but what does that actually mean? We, as humans, experience love. It’s not a measurable thing, so we tend to describe love as a reflection of actions. The same way that we can tell a massive object is in space when we might not be able to see it by seeing the way gravity affects things around it, we can see love in the actions of people toward other people.

So, is it loving to deny rights to people? Categorically not. Unilateral denial of basic human rights afforded to others for no other reason than your particular invisible man said in his confusing and contradictory book that they weren’t in accord with his vision is not an act of love. The question must then be: in what way is the sinner being loved in this scenario?

This is similar to Jules Manson’s claim that he isn’t a racist. Just saying something doesn’t actually make it true, and actions are generally good indicators of emotional realities.

The fact of the matter is, you cannot both love the sinner and hate the sin. Love is something that has to be manifested, expressed, in order for it to have meaning and sincerity. Without that manifestation, it is nothing but potential, an empty promise with an implied, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” It changes love into a salve for those who are too cowardly to admit that there are some things they don’t like for no good reason. They want to be good and, failing that, be thought of as good when the truth is that they irrationally hate various people and don’t want to suffer the social backlash for it.

Moreover, the entire concept is astoundingly condescending. Anybody who “hates the sin but loves the sinner” is basically saying, “I know you don’t know what you’re doing is wrong, but it’s ok, I’m willing to overlook your stupidity.” What sort of self-righteous bullshit is that? You think I’m doing bad things, but you don’t hold them against me because you inexplicably “love” me? If you’re doing terrible things, especially if I don’t know you, I’m not going to love you like some mentally retarded younger cousin who doesn’t know any better. This idea that you somehow know better and barely tolerate my wicked ways severely degrades the very concept of “love,” and that is something up with which I will not put.

So, what’s the solution? The most obvious one is simply, “Don’t be a dick.” You can solve that second problem by attempting to be inclusive, getting over your idiot notions, and weighing things in a way that makes sense.

The issue still comes in with how one can love everybody and still not particularly like certain people or, often, “what they do.” However, the answer to that one is just as easy: stop claiming to love everybody. You can’t do it, you shouldn’t do it. Nobody should feel obligated to love Kim Jong Il, and the world should rejoice in his death. He’s a murderous, oppressive dictator, a monster who starved his people to maintain his bloated army and to glorify himself. We should hate that man. Nobody should feel obligated to love Rick Santorum, or Michelle Bachmann, or Mitt Romney, or Ron Paul, or even Mr. Perry. Especially not Newt Gingrinch. Hell, nobody should feel obligated to love me and while I’m fortunate that many people do, it’s because I give them a reason to.

But please, don’t tell me you love me despite my being queer. Or poly. Or kinky. Or anything else I am that composes the great and gorgeous tapestry that is me. I don’t want your prayers for me to somehow be more in line with your vision of things and I don’t want your condescending tolerance. I want you to be honest that you don’t like things about me, be honest about the reasons, and if there are none, be honest that you have no reasons and accept the consequences that come with disliking somebody irrationally.